Henry Walsh is a farmer based in Oranmore, Co. Galway working alongside his wife, Patricia, and his son, Enda. Working with his family is something he describes as “the highlight of my existence”.
The farm began with Henry’s father milking cows in 1960s, although it was depopulated in the late 1960s with TB.
Spending about 7-8 years out of cows and during the beef crisis in 1975, his father swore he would never be dependent on beef cattle again and that he was going to go back into milk.
“Dad was never afraid of the hard work involved with dairying, but valued the predictability of an income there every month and you knew exactly what to expect, whereas with the beef, you could spend a lot of money early in the year buying cattle, and you could end up broke at the end of the year, what has changed 50 years later.” Henry explained to That’s Farming.
When Henry inherited the farm from his parents back in 90s, they had 60 cows. They were liquid milk suppliers, which meant they milked 365-days-a-year, with a black and white herd.
As the herd grew to 320, the biggest challenge they had at the time was infertility.
“At that time, we were using the RBI, which was previous to the EBI, but the RBI was more motivated by milk and was not concerned with the cows’ ability to go back in-calf.”
They ended up with a generation of breeding that pursued milk. Henry used the Jersey-cross “very effectively” which had a massive impact on the cows in terms of downsizing them, increasing the milk solids, and leaving them more fertile with better feet.
100% AI and 90% six-week calving rate
Last year, the herd averaged 5,200-litres at 4.7% butterfat and 3.8% protein, with 430KG/MS/cow from a concentrate input of 720 kgs/per cow.
The Holstein-Friesian/Jersey-crossbred cows are milked in a 50-bale Waikato rotary parlour.
The herd, which uses 100% AI breeding, achieved a 90% six-week calving rate in spring 2020.
Three weeks of dairy AI, mostly Friesian or some Kiwi-crosses, are followed by all beef AI, with Hereford and Aberdeen-Angus sires selected, while 30 Wagyu straws were utilised this breeding season.
Between 80-100 heifers as retained as replacements annually as part of a 24-month-old calving system.
In terms of business setup, Henry gives a lot of credit to New Zealand consultants in his early years, especially Briony Fitzgerald, who he said had a “massive influence on me”.
They did the equivalence of the profit monitor, which is a different model in the New Zealand system.
“It showed me that for all my work, 365-days-a-year, all of the purchased concentrates, constrained by quotas, we were not producing any more milk per hectare than standard spring calving farms, and making less profit.”
Once the figures were completely analysed, the amount of work put in just did not add up. So, the decision was made to switch to spring calving.
Henry stresses the importance of completing the Teagasc profit monitor, as this allows farmers to compare with farms similar to our own and set targets to aim for.
Henry sets up that they are closing the farm from October 1st, aiming to get in the region of a 50-day last rotation.
“Hopefully, that’s setting up the farm to have a good cover of grass next February and March when the cows are out grazing”.
Since the farm is located on the west coast of Ireland, Henry is no stranger to rain. They may be in the sweet spot in terms of positioning, avoiding the midland droughts, and benefiting from the rain from the Atlantic.
This year they did, however, suffer a bit with the drought, but Henry would see it as being “all positive” as they took the opportunity to clean out the farm very aggressively.
“It cost us a little, in that we fed an extra kilo of meal for 14 days during the end of the drought, we fed 100 round bales of silage across 300 cows and we fed a small bit of zero-grazing, that was available to us from an out farm, so the cost wasn’t extreme”.
The incredible grass growth that occurred following the drought has more than made up for and shortfall at the time.
Although Henry maintains a closed herd, which means they did not purchase any animal in over 20 years, instead of breeding their own, limiting exposure. He does have a contract rearing operation, that is dedicated to rearing no animal other than their own.
Henry disagrees with the TB letters that were sent out recently. He believes that his C10 rating is at “serious risk” from factors completely outside his control such as wildlife or even one inaccurate test.
“It was put to me, Henry you’re one bad test away from being a C1. If you have a TB breakdown, you’re automatically in the worst category possible.”
Henry is very concerned also by the fact that it jumps now from a C10 to a C1, as a result of perhaps a single positive result rather than going from C9, C8, and so on.
The pressure is now on farmers from an environmental perspective also. Henry believes it is something that we all must embrace. He also has a positive outlook on dairy in the future.
“I would be hopeful going forward that the dairy industry would be relevant and financially viable for the next generation.”